A man in a blue jacket standing in front of a mountain.

Dec 3, 2020

6 min. read

The first snow of the season may have already fallen, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put your bike away. With the right preparation it’s possible, and some say downright enjoyable, to cycle through an Ontario winter.

“I find it so beautiful and peaceful,” says Justin Jones, a manager at the Share the Road Cycling Coalition and an avid winter cyclist. “There’s nothing quite like the quiet of fresh-fallen snow. It absorbs all the sound and creates a beautiful landscape to ride through.”

With Covid-19 cases on the rise across Canada, cycling is also a great way to travel while keeping a safe distance from others while getting some exercise, experts say.

But if you’re new to bike riding in the winter, you’ll want to follow these four tips.

  • 1. Take your time

  • 2. Wear layers

  • 3. Look after your bike

  • 4. Stay visible


1. Take your time

It’s inevitable that at some point in the winter, you’re going to have to contend with snow and ice. When that time comes, ride cautiously, Jones says. “I always tell people to add 50 per cent to your cycling time.”

Go slow and brake well in advance of intersections. Change gears regularly to prevent the build up of slush.

Be especially careful when turning; that’s when most winter spills happen. Finally, avoid major roads if possible, opting instead for maintained trails, side streets or roads with bike lanes.

2. Wear layers

One reason many people avoid winter cycling is a fear of the cold. But pedaling will generate body heat, which, combined with the right clothes, should keep you nice and toasty. Jones recommends dressing in three layers—a base layer, a middle layer and your jacket—so you can peel away clothes if you get hot.

Also, make sure you have warm gloves, good boots and a thin toque or headband under your helmet. Remember to follow the 2V1 rule to ensure your helmet fits properly. If the weather is especially bad, consider a balaclava and a pair of ski goggles. Above all, don’t feel the need to buy fancy winter cycling gear.

“If you have lived through a Canadian winter, you have most of the gear you need to take up winter cycling,” Jones says.

3. Look after your bike

“Winter is rough on a bike,” Jones says. “There is no way around it.”

The biggest problem: road salt, which will eat away at the exposed metal on your bike, including the chain and the pedals. Experts recommend cleaning your bike regularly, rinsing away both salt and slush. (The latter can freeze, jamming up components like brakes.)

If you live in an especially snowy part of Ontario, you might want to consider installing studded tires or buying a bike with thicker tires and a heavier frame that you don’t mind exposing to the winter elements. Alternatively, if your city has a bike-sharing program, like Toronto or Hamilton, consider joining for the winter, Jones says. “Those bikes are more durable against the elements.”

4. Stay visible

In Ontario, it’s the law for bikes to have a white front light and a rear red light or reflector at night—as well as a half hour after dawn and a half hour before dusk. That’s especially important during winter when visibility is often already poor. Alongside that, wear bright, reflective clothing and put reflectors on your pedals or around your ankles. Jones says those—and solid front and back lights—often catch the eyes of drivers better than a blinking light.

If you run into trouble while riding this winter, give CAA a call. Members are entitled to roadside assistance for their bikes through our Bike Assist™ program. If your bike can’t be fixed on the spot, CAA will haul it to wherever* you need to go.

For more cycling safety tips, visit caasco.com/cycling

*Basic Members receive four tows up to 10 km, Plus Members receive four tows up to 200 km and Premier Members receive one tow up to 320 km and four tows up to 200 km within CAA South Central Ontario territory. Bike Assist counts as one of your allotted roadside calls during your membership year. Service will be provided to cyclists where there is permitted vehicle access and is based on seasonal availability.

Image credit: iStock.com/Zolga_F

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